By all sources, Rotrax Cycles of Southampton was founded in 1945, pipping Mercian Cycles at the post for the title of the oldest framebuilder in the UK still in business. That’s not a bad innings, but Tim Maund, who’s been building Rotrax frames since the mid-80s, isn’t done yet. He still has the workshop’s ledger and was able to date this frame to July 1956.
It’s a beautifully ornate frame, as was the style of the period. Somehow it made its way to the Western Australian capital city of Perth, into the hands of photographer Robert Frith — whose mother, coincidentally, was born in Southampton. It’s a Vel D’Hiv Path model, named after the Parisian Vélodrome d’Hiver, purchased by Robert through the Australian Cycling Forum.
Robert was looking for a pretty but practical bike and freely admits that it’s “not a classic lightweight for the purists”, but the frame arrived with no brake drillings and he didn’t want to compromise it by adding them. “I built the wheels myself,” Robert tells us, “the rear is a modern coaster brake hub with a 110mm OLN dimension, meaning it would fit the frame without re-spacing the forks.”
The frame may be nearly 57 years old, but Robert sympathetically assembled it with parts that guarantee another 50 or so. He built the wheels himself, a pair of HPlusSon TB14s laced to a vintage Harden Bacon Slicer and there’s a Phil Wood bottom bracket hiding between the Stronglight cranks. Tim Maund, for fellow Rotrax fans, can supply decals and headbadges like he did for Robert’s.